Riviera Beach (United States) (AFP) – Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas with ferocious wind and rain on Sunday, the monstrous Category 5 storm wrecking towns and homes as it churned on an uncertain path toward the US coast where hundreds of thousands were ordered to evacuate.
There was no immediate word on casualties in the low-lying islands.
Packing sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kph), Dorian crashed onshore in the Abacos Islands, in the northwest of the Bahamas, as the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean chain.
It was tied for the second most powerful hurricane ever in the Atlantic basin, the US National Weather Service said — with footage on social media showing major destruction from howling gusts of wind and pounding seawater.
Parts of the Abacos were under water as forecasters warned they faced a towering 18 to 23 foot storm surge. Winds were gusting over 220 mph with no sign of weakening as the storm barreled west over the island of Grand Bahama, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
Video posted on the website of the Bahamian newspaper Tribune 242 showed water up to the roofs of wooden houses in what appeared to be a coastal town. Capsized boats floated in muddy brown water dotted with wooden boards, tree branches and other debris.
In other social media footage of what appears to be an inland area, cars were smashed or turned over, telephone poles and trees were snapped like twigs and debris filled the yards of severely damaged homes. AFP could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the footage.
ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON and ELLIS RUA,Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Dorian powered toward Florida with increasing fury Friday, becoming an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm but leaving forecasters uncertain whether it would make a direct hit on the state’s east coast or inflict a glancing blow.
The storm’s winds rose to 130 mph (215 kph) and then, hours later, to a howling 140 mph (225 kph) as Dorian gained strength while crossing warm Atlantic waters. The hurricane could wallop the state with even higher winds and torrential rains late Monday or early Tuesday, with millions of people in the crosshairs, along with Walt Disney World and President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Though Dorian is growing in intensity, some of the more reliable computer models predicted a late turn northward that would have Dorian hug the coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
“There is hope,” Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters said.
The faint hope came on a day in which Dorian seemed to get scarier with each forecast update, growing from a dangerous Category 3 hurricane to an even more menacing Category 4 storm. And there were fears it could prove to be the most powerful hurricane to hit Florida’s east coast in nearly 30 years.
Late Friday, the National Hurricane Center’s projected new track showed Dorian hitting near Fort Pierce, some 70 miles (115 kilometers) north of Mar-a-Lago, then running along the coastline as it moved north. But forecasters cautioned that the storm’s track was still highly uncertain and even a small deviation could put Dorian offshore or well inland.
Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster-relief efforts. He told reporters that “Mar-a-Lago can handle itself” and is more worried about Florida.
“This is big and is growing, and it still has some time to get worse,” Julio Vasquez said at a Miami fast-food joint next to a gas station that had run out of fuel. “No one knows what can really happen. This is serious.”
As Dorian closed in, it upended people’s Labor Day weekend plans. Major airlines began allowing travelers to change their reservations without a fee. The big cruise lines began rerouting their ships. Disney World and the other resorts in Orlando found themselves in the storm’s projected path.
Jessica Armesto and her 1-year-old daughter, Mila, had planned to have breakfast with Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy at Disney World. Instead, Armesto decided to take shelter at her mother’s hurricane-resistant house in Miami with its kitchen full of nonperishable foods.
“It felt like it was better to be safe than sorry, so we canceled our plans,” she said.
Still, with Dorian days away and its track uncertain, Disney and other major resorts held off announcing any closings, and Florida authorities ordered no immediate mass evacuations.
“Sometimes if you evacuate too soon, you may evacuate into the path of the storm if it changes,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Homeowners and businesses rushed to cover their windows with plywood. Supermarkets ran out of bottled water, and long lines formed at gas stations, with fuel shortages reported in places. The governor said the Florida Highway Patrol would begin escorting fuel trucks to help them get past the lines of waiting motorists and replenish gas stations.
At a Publix supermarket in Cocoa Beach, Ed Ciecirski of the customer service department said the pharmacy was extra busy with people rushing to fill prescriptions. The grocery was rationing bottled water and had run out of dry ice.
“It’s hairy,” he said.
As of 11 p.m. EDT, Dorian was centered about 375 miles (605 kilometers) east of the northwestern Bahamas. That was also about 545 miles (880 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach with the storm packing sustained winds of 140 mph (225 kph). It was moving west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph). Forecasters warned that its slow movement could subject Florida to a prolonged and destructive pummeling from wind, storm surge and heavy rain.
Coastal areas could get 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 centimeters) of rain, with 18 inches (46 centimeters) in some places, triggering life-threatening flash floods, the hurricane center said. FEMA official Jeff Byard said Dorian is likely to “create a lot of havoc” for roads, power and other infrastructure.
Also imperiled were the Bahamas , where canned food and bottled water were disappearing quickly and the sound of hammering echoed across the islands as people boarded up their homes. Dorian was expected to hit by Sunday with the potential for life-threatening storm surge that could raise water levels 15 feet above normal.
“Do not be foolish and try to brave out this hurricane,” Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said. “The price you may pay for not evacuating is your life.”
In Florida, the governor urged nursing homes to take precautions to prevent tragedies like the one during Hurricane Irma two years ago, when the storm knocked out the air conditioning at a facility in Hollywood and 12 patients died in the sweltering heat. Four employees of the home were charged with manslaughter earlier this week.
DeSantis said the timely message from those arrests is: “It’s your responsibility to make sure you have a plan in place to protect those folks.”
At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, NASA moved a 380-foot-high mobile launch platform to the safety of the colossal Vehicle Assembly Building, built to withstand 125 mph (200 kph) wind. The launcher is for the mega rocket that NASA is developing to take astronauts to the moon.
The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the U.S. was on Labor Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sept. 2. It was blamed for over 400 deaths.
Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Michael Balsamo in Washington; Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Freida Frisaro and Marcus Lim in Miami; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; and Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.
The latest forecast from the National Hurricane Center has Dorian strengthening into a major Category 3 hurricane with winds of 115 mph by Sunday off the U.S. East Coast.
What does this mean?
A “major” hurricane is any hurricane that’s rated as a Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity. A Category 3 hurricane has maximum sustained winds of from 111 to 129 mph.
The five hurricane categories of the scale are defined solely by wind speed and don’t take storm surge, heavy rain or barometric pressure into account. Keep in mind that water – whether through surging ocean waves or driving rain – is often the most destructive part of a hurricane, typically causing more devastation than wind.
If Dorian hits as a Category 3, “devastating” wind damage will occur, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“There is a high risk of injury or death to people, livestock and pets due to flying and falling debris,” the hurricane center warned.